Paradise Square, Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky’s first Broadway show since serving a prison sentence for fraud, is closing after an unprofitable short run and the production is facing allegations of unpaid wages and dues.
Following an out-of-town tryout in Chicago last fall, the musical, set during the American Civil War, began previews in New York in March and opened on April 3. However, Paradise Square never caught on at the box office – even after receiving 10 Tony Award nominations, and winning one – and has not recovered its US$15-million investment.
With the production bleeding red ink, the show will stop running on Sunday and two U.S. unions are taking separate legal action against business entities behind the production, claiming a total of nearly US$380,000 in alleged unpaid wages and dues.
Mr. Drabinsky, a co-founder of Cineplex Inc. CGX-T and the former chief executive officer of Livent Inc., was once one of the biggest names in Canadian entertainment. Through Livent, he produced the musical hits Phantom of the Opera and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Canada, as well as Ragtime and Fosse – which won the Tony for Best Musical in 1999 – on Broadway.
However, Livent filed for bankruptcy protection in 1998 and Mr. Drabinsky and his former business partner Myron Gottlieb were charged with misstating the company’s financial statements. Livent eventually collapsed under a mountain of debt and both men served time in jail.
Mr. Drabinsky was released from jail on full parole in 2014, but three years later, the Ontario Securities Commission permanently banned him from becoming a director or officer of any public company in Ontario.
With his legal struggles fading, Mr. Drabinsky went back to producing, first attempting to return to Broadway with a musical called Sousatzka, which stalled after its out-of-town tryout in Toronto was poorly received in 2017.
He then turned his attention to Paradise Square, which explored the community built among a neighbourhood of Irish immigrants and African Americans. Despite mixed reviews, the show earned 10 Tony nominations and it won one for lead actress Joaquina Kalukango. However, the show failed to attract a sustainable audience in a recovery season for New York’s commercial theatre district that has been challenging for many producers.
“We wanted to give Paradise Square every chance to succeed, but various challenges proved insurmountable,” Mr. Drabinsky said in a press release, noting that the pandemic had stunted the production’s success, including a major shutdown less than two weeks after its opening night.
Actors’ Equity Association, a U.S. union based in New York City, is involved in an arbitration process, seeking nearly US$190,000 in alleged unpaid union dues, benefits and interest it claims Paradise Square Production Services Inc., the show’s production company, failed to pay as part of a settlement agreed upon in May, according to union spokesperson David Levy.
“Equity is pursuing every avenue available to ensure the actors and stage managers of Paradise Square receive everything their contract guarantees them,” said Mr. Levy in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, is seeking US$190,000 in alleged unpaid wages and benefits, which it says it has not yet received from Paradise Square Broadway Limited Partnership, a separate entity affiliated with the production, according to union spokesperson Josh Austin.
In April, the union filed a grievance alleging the production had violated the collective bargaining agreement by failing to make certain payments to the show’s designers, according to documents submitted by the union to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
In June, a judge sided with the union, requiring that the production company pay the union a total award of US$156,965, plus legal fees and accrued interest, by Dec. 1.
United Scenic Artists is now requesting confirmation and enforcement of the court award, according to the documents.
Mr. Drabinsky did not respond to requests for comment, and a spokesperson for the production declined to answer questions about either legal case. Mr. Drabinsky told The New York Times in April that, though credited as the lead producer, he was not in charge of the show’s finances.
Bernard Abrams, who is listed as chief executive officer of Paradise Square Broadway Limited Partnership on forms submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, did not respond to a request for comment.
The show initially raised US$13.5-million to fund its development and production costs, and later raised an additional US$1.5-million, according to the SEC documents.
According to data from Broadway League, a U.S.-based industry organization, Paradise Square earned US$266,926 in the first week of July – the second-last of its run – down about US$30,000 from the week before. In its highest week, mid-June, it grossed nearly US$390,000.
The box-office revenues were not sufficient to cover the show’s weekly operating costs, which, according to Forbes, were estimated at US$598,400.
Among the Canadian investors in the show were Richard Stursberg, former executive at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; real estate construction company owners Hunter and Mariana Milborne; and Rick Chad, a long-time supporter of Mr. Drabinsky‘s work. Lobbyist and former Democratic congressman Joe Crowley was also an investor.
Mr. Stursberg maintains that, had it not been for the pandemic, the show would have prospered, noting that the performing arts sector has suffered over the last two years as shutdowns have hampered production momentum. He also said it was unfortunate timing for Mr. Drabinsky’s return to producing.
“He had a tough time over the last little while, and to finally get back with a great show and have it fall apart has to be a terrible disappointment,” Mr. Stursberg told The Globe and Mail.
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